Unsurprisingly, there are a BUNCH of challenges regarding education in Afghanistan. But there’s a thirst for knowledge and education here that’s really cool. You can see it in numbers like this: “Educational access [at what passes for secondary education here] – 600,000 applicants for 20,000 seats.” It’s truly tragic there are only 20,000 seats available. But the number of applicants is awesome!
You can also see it in the pride Afghans get when they receive the graduation certificate from a course, turn to face their peers, and shout “For Afghanistan!” Graduations are a Really Big Deal in the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP); being able to attend graduation ceremonies as a representative of the Coalition is perhaps the most rewarding part of my job.
My first was a radio maintenance class, taught under an Afghan contract and paid for by US taxpayers through CSTC-A. Until they started class, seven weeks before the ceremony, these soldiers had NEVER seen a Phillips screwdriver or electrical tape. But by the end, they could make basic repairs, even including soldering new encryption circuits into the radios and loading encryption keys. This is a neat technically, of course. But it’s HUGE operationally, because these encryption cards keep insurgents from being able to listen in on ANA conversations using captured radios. The graduates’ new skills will literally keep other soldiers alive.
Another was an opportunity to congratulate the graduates of a computer tech support class. It was pretty basic stuff to be sure…I’m certain my 14-year old could provide better tech support. But what was especially striking was that it was a 4-month class, and every graduate’s Boss valued the education so much he or she was willing to send them away from the fight and to a class for that long. As you’d expect, there aren’t many people with computer skills in Afghanistan. But those that have them can make a HUGE impact.
Perhaps the most amazing graduation so far though has been the radio maintenance instructor course, at the ANA Central Workshop. Central Workshop is this SERIOUSLY steampunk maintenance warren, with a long proud history of sledgehammer-style maintenance (stuff like smelting ANA emblems and refurbishing AK-47s), but a short and slightly embarrassing history of oscilloscope-style maintenance. Until the other day. We basically took the five best radio maintainers in the ANA and trained them up even more…they’re now officially certified to train others. Which is HUGE, for the individuals themselves, for the Central Workshop, for the ANA, and for Afghanistan. We made quite the big deal out of it…80+ people there to recognize these five soldiers. Which is entirely appropriate recognition for five soldiers who represent the future of the Afghan National Army–an Army that can train and sustain itself.
Education is EXTREMELY precious and desirable here. Sometimes, finding that knowledge is surprisingly easy (the Afghans I’ve dealt with have–almost without exception–been extremely quick to pick up on new concepts). And sometimes it’s almost unbelievably difficult. But even then, they’ll move mountains to get it.
Bottom line: The Afghans have a phrase that elegantly describes the whole situation:
We will find the lost diamond, whether on top or buried under the ground.
* Photos by SMSgt Brett Kolasch, USAF